It’s May 2018 and we’re already halfway through our journey. Let’s reminisce, shall we?
We landed in Delhi, India last November to begin our trip. There’s no need for you to go to Delhi unless you have to fly there for a connecting flight or catch a train or bus on to somewhere else. Delhi is the most challenging place that I’ve even been, and I’ve been there about 10 times. I do not recommend staying there for any length of time. Even 24 hours is pushing it. It is not for the faint of heart. The air pollution is so bad you’d swear someone closed the damper on the wood stove before the logs properly caught on, and then went off to work. The scary thing is 20+ million people go about their business every day like nothing’s wrong. Add in the ruthless, dishonest taxi drivers that have left countless trusting tourists in tears and you’ve got yourself an experience that will begin to jade even the most compassionate among us. But, and this is a big but, if you do get through it, places like Bangkok, Bombay and Bhaktapur will somehow seem tame.
We headed North to Rishikesh for a month or so. Our friend MP met us at the airport that night in Dehradun. That experience of having a friend who lives 7000 miles away, who you haven’t seen in 7 years, meet you there with a taxi, at night, is one of the most comforting and heartwarming feelings I’ve experienced. The taxi drove us through a jungle on the way to our Airbnb. Cars travel through the jungle at night in groups because there are elephants. It’s safer for the cars to travel in groups. This way if an elephant stampedes a car, the other cars close by can by quickly converted to makeshift ambulances. No one, except those who have died trying, walk this road at night. Everyone in India loves to tell tales of the most recent rumor, I mean news story, of another unlucky nighttime walker getting eaten, mauled, or just plan snatched by a lion, leopard or some other monster. Of course there is no official count of how many incidents there are because it’s India, and there’s not a lot of truly “official” things.
Our time in Rishikesh was spent exploring, volunteering, doing Yoga and visiting with old friends and making new ones. At this point Rishikesh seems like a second home to us. We may even go back there in the next 6 months before we return to the states.
After Rishikesh we planned to go to Vapi, or maybe Nepal, or maybe not. We ended up going back to Delhi (I know, I know). We were taking advantage of an Airbnb credit we had for an apartment there. From there we flew to Chennai, complete opposite side and end of the country. Chennai sounded nice and it was nearby to a very spiritual place called Tiruvannamali (an expensive 6 hour taxi ride). I didn’t find Chennai remarkable in any way. Tiruvannamali is another story. There are tons of Westerners obsessed with its spiritual power. I was unable to tap into or connect with it.
Next we threw the itinerary out the window and headed to Sri Lanka. That’s the beauty of travelling with no fixed plans. Sri Lanka was a treat. It’s not crowded, it’s fairly clean, it’s got a highway, it has great beaches, mountains and elephants. There are tea plantations and waterfalls. It has friendly people and it’s very affordable. Some of the fondest memories of the trip so far, for me, were in Ella and Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka. We explored about 1/4 of the country over the course of 3 weeks. I would easily go back for another 3 weeks at some point in the future.
From there we headed back to India. A place called Thiruvananthapuram. We didn’t stay there and I didn’t take the time to learn the pronunciation. We taxied right to Varkala Beach on the west coast of India. We dreamed about slowly heading up the coast over the next month or so. Kerala, Goa, and eventually to Bombay. Varkala is an old hippy destination, still pretty touristy, with a small but pretty nice beach area. We had a cheap, but adequate Airbnb. Next we hopped a train to Kochi, or Cochin, not sure of the official name. I think that was a 4 hour train ride. I decided that 4 hours on a train in India is about my limit. I guess it may previously have been called Cochin but the newly state elected officials, there’s that word again, changed it to Kochi. This happens all over India on a regular basis. Uttaranchal came Uttarkarand. Madras became Chennai. Bombay became Mumbai. This keeps map makers here in India busy. Can you imagine? I get back to New Hampshire and the new guv has changed it to Nu Hampsta or something. We stayed at a guesthouse for about a week in the old fort area of Kochi. We met up with one of our new friends from Rishikesh at a mall in Kochi. We had pizza. Speaking of pizza this is one of the things I miss. As mediocre as a lot of the pizza is in NH, its top notch compared to Asia. One of the first things I’m doing upon my return is going to Chief’s Place and get myself a greek pizza.
Before leaving Kochi we decided to skip Goa (I know, I know). We’re just not big beach people. Faced with a 20 hour train ride to Bombay we decided to fly. In 2 hours we were in Mumbai (Bombay). See what I mean about changing names? We took an Uber to a train station, somehow got a ticket, and headed North to Vapi. Vapi is a place we skipped earlier in the trip and we had some time before our next engagement in Bombay. We arrived with no fixed plan and ended up staying about 10 days. This was the highlight of the trip so far for me. We lived on a school campus with a bunch of swamis and travelled out into poor rural villages and schools. I would easily go back for another month at some point in the future.
From Vapi back to Mumbai for Laurie’s meditation program with her guru. I walked around the city, drank coffee, and ate at Domino’s. Mumbai is expensive and we went over budget. So what’s the budget? I’m glad you asked. So far we’ve spent a total of $82 a day for 2 people. That includes everything – flying from the USA to India, all food and drink, all accommodations, all other domestic and international flights, trains, taxis, rickshaws, tuk-tuks, tips, donations, movies, medicine, teeth cleaning, cell phone service, overweight luggage, books, haircuts, ice cream, visas, personal items, yoga classes, massages, 9 nights in fancy hotels, 12 nights in shabby rooms, and anything else I missed. From Bombay we were off to Bangkok, Thailand not knowing what to expect but looking to stay put and save some money.
In order to get back on track financially we decided to rent an apartment for about a month, cook meals at home, and see the city. I fell in love with Bangkok. I guess when you don’t don’t live in a big city it seems fascinating. Lot’s of travelers disagree with my love of Bangkok but I was drawn in by its cleanliness, its modernness, its orderliness, and its calm, cool and collected residents. Nobody loses their cool in Bangkok. One time somebody did. It was a taxi driver who had an argument with a foreigner. The foreigner video’d the incident. It was no more than the driver losing his temper about money. The video went on FB and the government found out. They fined the driver $10 and made the 2 guys shake hands in public and banned the driver for picking up anyone from the airport for the time being.
Next we headed North to Chiang Mai. A 45 minute plane ride vs. a 14 hour train ride. Any guesses? We had a place set up way ahead of time for a month. A 2 BR apartment. family was coming to visit for a few weeks. Chiang Mai has Yoga, Tai Chi, western food, fast internet, old charm, and plenty of things to do. See previous post here for all the details about our time in Chiang Mai.
Laos and Cambodia were part of our original itinerary. It seemed pricey to fly to Laos even though it was less than an hour away, so we scratched it. Then we got the heads up from the news and some friends who have been Cambodia that the country has elections coming up soon. And the government put the opposition candidate in jail. And there may be protests. So we scratched it.
So, on to Vietnam it is. Let’s catch up in the next blog post, shall we?